NASA research opportunity provides Paul D. Camp Community College student experience of a lifetime

Lilly and Dr WohlLilly Balderson made a significant impact on the research project to which she contributed this summer at NASA’s Langley Research Center. She is co-inventor of a pending patent application and a co-author of a conference paper. She is seen here at graduation from the 10-week summer opportunity with her advisor/mentor NASA Senior Research Surface Scientist Dr. Christopher Wohl.
 
At one moment, 20-year-old Lilly Balderson was on her way to NASA’s Langley Research Center for a golden summer opportunity to conduct research. Ten weeks later, she was already recognized as a co-inventor on a pending patent.
 
A former resident of Wakefield, Balderson was a neuroscience major at Stony Brook University in New York. A change in circumstances led her to return to Virginia, where she ultimately enrolled at Paul D. Camp Community College with plans to eventually continue her studies at another local four-year university.
 
“I never knew that attending PDCCC was going to be one of the smartest decisions I’ve ever made,” she said. Balderson learned of the NASA STEM Takes Flight opportunity at Langley Research Center from fellow student Jeremy Williams, who was selected for a summer experience in 2017 at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility. Once the opportunities opened, she was further encouraged by PDCCC instructor Nancy Warren to apply.
 
According to Balderson, she spent June 4 through Aug. 10 working on the ICE project at Langley, where she worked on the research, development and testing of new coating materials that prevent ice adhesion.
 
“Specifically, I worked on developing aromatic systems with aliphatic multifunctionalities,” she explained. “I had the opportunity to incorporate a multitude of nanomaterial additives from graphene derivatives to rubber particles. I subjected my samples to a multitude of tests and further extrapolated coating generations from my data.”
 
Balderson has since enrolled at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond, where she has relocated. Her advisor at NASA, Senior Research Surface Scientist Dr. Christopher Wohl, was quick to tout the impact she had on the project.
 
“Lilly has an exciting and bright future ahead of her,” he said. I think VCU will benefit as a result of having her at their university and the Virginia Community College System should be very proud of the education and enthusiasm they have fostered in her.”
 
According to Wohl, the new technology report that will include Lilly as a co-inventor will be titled, “Durable Contamination Resistant Coatings.” In addition, an abstract, “Reinforcing Additives for Ice Adhesion Reduction Coatings,” will list her as co-author and be submitted to the Annual Meeting of the Adhesion Society, which will be held in February 2019.
 
Balderson, previously immersed in the medical sciences prior to this experience has changed her educational direction. “I plan to go to grad school for engineering instead of medical school,” she said. “This experience solidified my love for chemistry and has opened so many doors for me. At VCU, I will be developing 3-D printer ink to make a specialized robotics arm over the next year, also other inks to help with other projects varying from biomedical to nuclear engineering.”
 
The VCU student is currently pursuing chemistry with a concentration of professional chemist. From there, she plans to earn a Ph.D. in some aspect of chemical engineering. While she is not sure exactly where she wants to work in the engineering field, Balderson is sure that she loves being in the lab.
 
“My exact focus of engineering isn’t clear yet, but I really love the chemical science behind the brain. I hope to find a field pertaining to that possibly. I do know that I want to return to NASA and do more materials research.”
 
The Richmond resident is very grateful for her time spent at PDCCC and the fact that it led her to the research opportunity at NASA.
 
“My mentor was phenomenal and really let me incorporate my ideas into the project,” she said. “This was a completely life-changing experience. I strongly encourage everyone with a science background to apply. I never imagined I would be at NASA and now, my career is rooted in it.”